Impact owner wants changes, but struggling team must make do for now

Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo comments the return of striker Didier Drogba on the first day of training camp Monday, January 25, 2016 in Montreal. Drogba returns after weeks of speculation on whether the 37-year-old striker would go back to his former club Chelsea. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo has promised big changes to his struggling team, although coach Remi Garde cautions that little can be done before the next MLS transfer window opens on July 10.

The Impact (3-8-0) are in free fall, having been shut out in three straight losses, including a 1-0 defeat to Los Angeles at home on Monday while playing up one man for 50 minutes after Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off.

It’s been a rough start for first-year coach Garde, the former Olympique Lyonnais boss who made sweeping personnel changes in the off-season only to end up with a punchless attack and an injury-wracked defence.

However, he won’t get a chance to bring in new talent for at least another six weeks. By then, the playoffs may be out of reach.

"I told the guys the solution for the next eight games has to come from inside," Garde said Thursday, adding that it is a chance for them to "show that maybe we’re not in the place in the table we should be."

The Impact sit 10th in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of last-place D.C. United, who have played three fewer games.

After the loss to L.A., Saputo vented his frustration in an interview with radio 98.5 FM.

"There will be changes," said Saputo. "There will be some that fans might not like, but there will be changes.

"I’m not happy with our situation. I’ve had discussions with the technical staff and the Impact will definitely have to move during July’s transfer window. I cannot accept where we are at the moment. I’m very competitive. We still have a chance to achieve our goals. There are still a lot of games to play. I’m not going down without a fight."

When asked if the moves may include star midfielder Ignacio Piatti, Saputo said that none of his players was untouchable.

Piatti, who has either scored or assisted on 11 of the team’s 14 goals, is on a new three-year contract that pays US$4.7 million ($6.065 CDN) per season.

"I may be speaking a little in the heat of the moment, but, seriously speaking, if someone comes to get Piatti and offers me X amount for him, I save on the salary cap and I make money," said Saputo. "Are we better off having three players at two million apiece instead of one player at six million? I don’t know.

"Anyways, personally, I’m not happy with our current situation and I’m not an owner who will say ‘we’ll finish this year and then make decisions.’ We have time to do that now."

He also said the club may have underestimated the rest of the league in the off-season.

The main change was bringing in a new coaching staff. Garde opted to trade popular centreback Laurent Ciman and bring in Frenchman Zakaria Diallo, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear three days before the regular season opener.

He also saw playmaker Blerim Dzemaili return to his former club in Italy, captain Patrice Bernier retire, speedy leftback Ambroise Oyongo sign with a French club and gifted teenager Ballou Tabla get snatched away by Spanish giant Barcelona.

Finding replacements during the winter transfer window proved difficult.

Garde said he missed out on two or three players he targeted in Europe because their clubs wouldn’t sell them in what for them was mid-season.

"Unfortunately we couldn’t do all that we wanted and now we’re approaching the next transfer window in which we must continue this process," he said.

The players say what management decides is out of their control.

"I can honestly say guys don’t talk about it," said fullback Daniel Lovitz. "It’s not something we like to invest energy in, and frankly it’s kind of an inappropriate use of our energy right now, especially with the way we’ve been playing.

"I think there’s a lot more effective ways to channel our energy and focus, especially when we need to improve as a team."


When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.